Red light cameras bring minimal safety additions

Published July 26, 2013

In the six months before the city of Port Richey installed red light cameras on U.S. 19 at Grand Boulevard, authorities reported just two motor vehicle crashes at the intersection. Two years later, that number had jumped 700 percent to 14 accidents over the same six-month period.

The statistics show that it is time for two west Pasco cities to drop the pretense of red light cameras being about enhanced public safety. A report this month from Pasco County revealed a significant drop in accidents at only one of nine intersections equipped with the cameras along U.S. 19 in the cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey. And, overall, the data show an increase in crashes when taking into account vehicles skidding on wet pavement, drunken or distracted drivers or other contributing factors.

"We're not saving anything, in terms of making it safer, as far as red light cameras go,'' Commissioner Jack Mariano correctly surmised after being briefed on the report at a Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.

Unfortunately, the cameras are outside the commission's purview because they are located within the municipal limits of Port Richey and New Port Richey and, despite declining revenue, the cameras still provide an easy boost to the cities' bottom lines.

New Port Richey, for instance, netted nearly $780,000 from five cameras in the 2012 fiscal year, but that number is expected to dwindle to $580,500 by the end of this fiscal year or just half of what the city had budgeted in revenue. The city is locked into a contractual agreement to keep the cameras until 2016, but Council should question the wisdom of maintaining this cash grab from motorists if there is so little difference in the number of rear-end collisions.

The recent report, compiled by the Pasco County Traffic Operations Division for the county and city officials sitting as the MPO, counted intersection accidents for the six-month periods before the cameras were installed and for the same six-month periods after the cameras became operational. The study looked at accidents that occurred within 250 feet of each intersection and reviewers also read the police report narrative for each crash to determine contributing factors.

Overall, crashes increased from 27 to 33 and only the southbound lanes on U.S. 19 at Ridge Road showed a marked safety improvement with rear-end accidents dropping from eight to four between the second half of 2009 and 2010. Crashes ticked upward for the same six months in 2011 to six.

In New Port Richey, the camera vendor compiled separate statistics for the city suggesting 90 percent of the offenders do not get another red light violation, which could indicate safer driving habits. But, the raw numbers do not account for drivers using alternative routes and also pale in comparison to a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation that found just a 3 percent recidivism rate in a four-year review of red light camera tickets in Sacramento, Calif.

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The Florida DOT is currently building continuous right-hand turn lanes and channelized medians to try to cut down on U.S. 19 crashes and the state previously added additional street lights and more prominent street signs for the same reason. So far, the cities' red light cameras are not part of the solution to curbing the danger of driving on U.S. 19.